By Squiggly Meyers, Sept 2022; Edited by Bossman
Throughout history Women have made their mark on humanity. From Helen of Troy to Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale to Marie Curie, women have contributed in many ways over the years. However, musically there is a lack of recognition for those contributors of the musical arts. Recognition, such as Hildegard Von Bingen (1098 – 1179), Clara Schumann (1819 -1896), and Sofia Gubaidulina (1931 – to present) just to name a few. Then, there came the musical movement of the western world with the birth of Jazz and Swing in the early twentieth century, and the birth of the blues which followed. Heralded as the father of modern Blues, Robert Johnson is best known for ushering in a style of playing and song writing that is synonymous with the genre.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Many men followed in his wake, most notably Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley and so on and so on. However, there was one special lady who sported a six string and sang with such conviction. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, born Rosetta Nubin, March 20, 1915 – October 9, 1973. The Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll was born in Cotton Plant, Ark. to Katie Bell and Willis Atkins. She was among the first to mix Gospel music with Rhythm and Blues, the beginnings of Rock music as we know it today.
In the mid-twenties, she followed her mother, a Deaconess and Evangelist with the Church of God in Christ, to the Windy City of Chicago. There, she was exposed to the many interpretations of the blues and jazz. Ms. Rosetta was one in a million and her influence helped create a genre of music that has evolved in many ways and branched out in so many directions. Sited as one of Chuck Berry’s major influences, Ms. Rosetta genuinely holds the title of The Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Now there have been many women in rock, however, only a select few stood above the rest. Our next candidate is someone who stood out in a crowd. The phrase, “She dared to be different”, was one she carried with pride. Janis Lyn Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas on January 19, 1943. Though she grew up in a primarily Christian home, Janis didn’t take well to conformity as was labeled as a freak and a creep. Having fallen in love with the music of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Lead Belly, Janis decided that she wanted to be a singer.
Her career spanned nearly a decade, first recording with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, of Jefferson Airplane fame. She then returned home to Port Arthur to regain her health and stability, seeing how the drug use had withered her away to a mere 88 pounds. Back home with her parents, Janis took control of her life and went back to Lamar Collage while frequently driving to Austin to perform. She then returned to the studio and recorded seven tracks including an original track called, “Turtle blues”. In 1966, Joplin would join Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Another notable mention is, Anna Mae Bullock, best known by her stage name Tina Turner. Born on November 26, 1939, in Brownsville, Tennessee, Anna Mae grew up in the Nutbush/Flagg Grove community. At the age of 16, she relocated to St. Louis. There, she would meet Ike Turner and become a singer in his band. Ike, seeing the potential Anna Mae possessed, groomed her for the stage and renamed her “Tina Turner”. During the sixties and early to mid-seventies Ike and Tina built a career that seemed unstoppable.
Tina became the first female and first African American artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. In the late seventies, Ike and Tina parted ways and Tina began a slow climb to the top as a solo artist, reaching the brass ring in 1984 with the release of her album, “Private Dancer”. The following year she anchored her place at the top starring with Mel Gibson in the 1985 film, “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”. Also lending her vocal talents to the “We are the World” charity single and performed at “Live Aid” alongside Mick Jagger. These are just a handful of Tina’s many accomplishments over the years.
As Rock ‘n’ Roll Royalty goes, only one lady reigned above the court, Stevie Nicks. Born Stephanie Lynn Nicks in Phoenix Arizona on May 26, 1948 to Jess and Barbara Nicks, she learned to sing duets and harmonize at the tender age of four. Taught by her paternal grandfather, A.J. Nicks, she would later use these skills to good use. Her bohemian/gypsy persona came unintentionally by her frequent relocating due to her father’s work, but finally setting anchor in California. Serendipity would have her meet the man who would become her musical partner.
Stevie would come to meet Lindsey Buckingham her Senior year of high school. Hearing song “California Dreamin'” at Young Life Club, she couldn’t help but sing along and harmonize with him. Lindsey, a member of a psychedelic band known as Fritz, was impressed by Nicks and later ask her to join the band. Fritz would have the distinct honor of opening for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin alike. In the early seventies, Fritz broke up, but Nicks and Buckingham remained together. Landing a record deal, they released their only album Buckingham Nicks which bombed.
Buckingham’s guitar work caught the attention of Mick Fleetwood who asked Lindsey to join his band. Lindsey’s only stipulation for joining was that Stevie join the band also. Fleetwood Mac considered the stipulation and reasoned that the duo would make a much-needed addition to the band and agreed. Fleetwood Mac’s debut album garnered the band worldwide success. Their second album, “Rumors” catapulted them into superstardom with the Nicks penned hit “Dreams” becoming a #1 single for the band. Her stage presence was electrifying and her solo album garnering critical and commercial success. It’s no wonder she has reigned as The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Ann & Nancy Wilson
Heart, like Fleetwood Mac, was formed and had gigs before the addition of the duo that would complete the ensemble. Known then as The Army, they got their beginnings in the late sixties. The Army was formed by Bassist Steve Fossen and Guitarist Roger Fisher in 1967 along with Don Wilhelm on guitar, keyboards and lead vocals, and Ray Schaefer on drums to complete the ensemble. Soon after, they would add Gary Ziegelman on lead vocals and James Cirrello would replace Wilhelm on guitar, while Ron Rudge would replace Schaefer on drums, along with Ken Hansen on percussion.
This lineup change would prompt the band to rename itself as Hocus Pocus, later changing it to White Heart, (Not to be confused with the Eighties Christian Rock band of the same name). They opted to shorten the name to Heart in 1973. Also joining to complete the lineup was Ann Wilson, who joined in 1973. Ann’s sister, Nancy, would also join the band in 1974. Though the band would undertake an infamous number of lineup changes since ’74, Ann and Nancy would become the keystone of Heart. They Released 15 studio albums along with number one singles “These Dreams” (1986) and “Alone” (1987). Ann and Nancy Wilson two stars who stole our heart.
Another rising star of the Eighties was a hard rocking lady named, Pat Benatar.
She was born Patricia Mae Andrzejewski on January 10, 1953, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NYC. Growing up in the Long Island town of Babylon, she took an interest in theater and started taking vocal training. She made her singing debut at the tender age of eight at Daniel Street Elementary School. At Lindenhurst Senior High School, she participated in musical theatre playing Queen Guinevere in the school production of Camelot. She also participated in singing in parades and Christmas tree lightings.
She trained as a coloratura, an operatic singer of virtuoso ability, with plans to attend the Juilliard School, but decided instead to pursue health education at Stony Brook University. At 19, after one year at Stony Brook, she dropped out to marry her first husband, Dennis Benatar. She headlined New York City’s Tramps nightclub over four days in spring 1978 where her performances were heard by representatives from several record companies. She was signed to Chrysalis Records by co-founder Terry Ellis the following week.
She and Dennis divorced shorty after, though she kept his last name. Her debut album, “In the Heat of the Night”, was released in 1979 and proved to be a big hit and was certified platinum in December of 1980. The sleeper hit “Heartbreaker” catapulted Benatar into the mainstream. Her follow up album, 1980’s “Crimes of Passion” with her signature song “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” peaked at No. 2 in the US and subsequently earned Benatar her first Grammy Award for “Best Female Rock Performance”. She has had many hits since then and remains etched as one of Rocks best Female performers.
Our next entry is a pair of rockin’ ladies who got their start together in the mid to late seventies. We’re talking about none other than Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Getting their start as the guitarists of The Runaways (See Honorable Mentions), these two powerhouse rockers helped pave the way for future aspiring female musicians. Starting with Jett. Born Joan Marie Larkin, September 22, 1958, Jett grew up in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. By the age of nine, her family relocated to Rockville, Maryland.
Joan received her first guitar at the age of thirteen and took some lessons before her family made their final move cross country to West Covina, California, in Los Angeles County. This provided Jett the opportunity to pursue her musical interests. In the interest of her musical endeavors, Joan adopted the surname of Jett because she said it sounded more like a “Rock Star’s name”. At the age of 16, Jett became a founding member of The Runaways. As per-mentioned, they released four studio albums and one live album with Jett recording the final two as their lead singer. When the band broke up, Jett started a run at becoming a solo artist in England.
Ultimately, Jett moved back to Los Angeles where she met songwriter and producer Kenny Laguna. Forming a partnership with Laguna, Joan moved to Long Beach, New York, where Laguna was based to record her self-titled debut album and was released in Europe on May 17, 1980. In the US though, major labels passed on the album causing Jett and Laguna to self-release the album. After forming The Blackhearts, they struggled until Laguna made a joint venture with an old friend, Neil Bogart who signed Joan Jett & The Blackhearts to his label Boardwalk Records and re-released their album as “Bad Reputation”.
After touring, they returned to the studio to record their follow up album, “I Love Rock and Roll” which became Joan’s number one single and was inducted into the Grammy’s hall of fame. Jett released “Album” (1983) and “Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth” (1984). A string of Top 40 hits followed, as well as, sellout tours with The Police, Queen, and Aerosmith, among others. She was among the first English-speaking rock acts to appear in Panama and the Dominican Republic.
Part two of this dynamic duo brings us to Lita Ford. Lita Rossana Ford was born on September 19th, 1958, in London, England, just three days prior to Jett. When she was in second grade, she moved with her family to the United States eventually settling in Long Beach, California. Another veteran of The Runaways, Ford was the lead guitarist and a hard rock enthusiast. After the Runaways disbanded in April of 1979, Ford then pursued a solo career after signing with Mercury Records. Her debut album, “Out for Blood”, was a commercial flop, however. Her follow up album, “Dancin’ On the Edge” that was released in 1984 did moderately better.
During this time, Ford was engaged to Tony Iommi, of Black Sabbath, who produced an album of hers for RCA Records that was never released. After signing with RCA, Ford hired Sharon Osborne Management and recorded her most successful album titled “Lita”. This album was more a pop-metal style and gave Ford her highest ranking hit single, “Close My Eyes Forever”, a duet with John “Ozzy” Osbourne. The single reached #8 on Billboard’s Top 100. Her following two albums “Stiletto” and “Dangerous Curves” failed to match the success of “Lita”.
Her final record release was the album, “Black” on the German label ZYX Records before taking a break from the music business in 1995 to raise her two boys. She reemerged in 2008 with a new band and released a new album, “Wicked Wonderland” on Oct. 6th, 2009 on the JLRG Entertainment label. Though this Nu-Metal sound really didn’t strike her as her own, she swore to fans she would make a “Real” comeback album one day. True to her word, she came through with her 2012 release, “Living Like a Runaway” and was more like Ford’s earlier work.
Now, the nineties were an explosive time for women in rock. It seemed the flood gates were opened and girl-power reigned supreme. The list of female fronted bands of the nineties is a feature article all its own. For this reason, we’re going to focus on three. The first of which is an Irish singer, musician and song writer best known and the front woman of The Cranberries. Dolores Mary Eileen O’Riordan was born September 6th, 1971, in Ballybricken, County Limerick, Ireland. She was youngest of nine children, two of whom died in infancy.
O’Riordan was singing at a very young age. By the age of five, she was already singing to captive audiences. She was singing as a soloist and in choirs by the age of twelve when she stood up in front of her class and declared, “My name is Dolores, and I’m going to be a rock star.” At age twelve, she took piano lessons. By the age of seventeen, she took up the guitar. The following year, she ran away from home to seek her dream of singing. In early 1990, she was introduced to the band The Cranberry Saw Us and to founders Mike and Noel Hogan by the band’s original singer Niall Quinn.
The brothers, whom after hearing her sing, handed her a cassette with instrumentals, asked her if she could work on it. When she returned with a rough version of “Linger”, she was hired. Though she struggled with her shyness at first, she won over crowd after crowd. After putting out a couple of EPs, the band decided to shorten their name to The Cranberries. Dolores began to attain international attention after the release of The Cranberries debut album, “Everyone Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” in 1993.
At first, their singles “Linger” and “Dreams” struggled to gain ground, but thanks to MTV who put their videos on heavy rotation, they quickly became big hits for the band. This, accompanied by a rigorous tour schedule, gave the band the much-needed exposure for success. The group returned to the studio to record their follow up album, “No Need to Argue”, which was released on 3 October 1994. It would go on to peak at No. 6 on the US charts and eventually outsell their debut album. “No Need to Argue” went triple platinum within a year. It also produced their first number one single, “Zombie”.
Our next entry is another nineties staple, Ms. Sheryl Crow. Sheryl Suzanne Crow was born in Kennett, Missouri on February 11th, 1962. Her parents Bernice and Wendell Crow were both musicians. Her mother was a piano teacher and her father, a lawyer, played the trumpet. Notably, her great-grandfather was congressman Charles A. Crow (1873–1938). Crow’s musical endeavors became a more focused stream while enrolled at the University of Missouri in Columbia where she received a BA Ed degree in music education.
During the late eighties, her singing skills were put to jingles for local and national brands including McDonald’s and Toyota. This garnered her an opportunity to sing back up on Michael Jackson’s BAD tour. She also lent her vocal skills to the likes of Belinda Carlisle, Don Henley, Jimmy Buffett, and Stevie Wonder to name a few. In 1992, Sheryl recorded what was to be her self-titled album, but the album was never officially released due to Crow’s disappointment at the end result stating, “It sounded too produced, Slick”.
After a couple of years, she made another attempt which hit pay dirt. Her 1994 debut album “Tuesday Night Music Club” featured many of the songs written by Crow’s friends, including the second single, “Leaving Las Vegas”. Although the album struggled to gain it’s footing, it was the album’s sleeper single “All I Wanna Do” that became an unexpected smash hit. “Tuesday Night Music Club” went on to sell more than 7 million copies in the US and UK during the 1990s. The album also won Crow three Grammy Awards in 1995: Record of the Year, Best New Artist, and Best Female Vocal Performance.
Our next artist is an underrated rock star, in my humble opinion, who hit the stage running. She was born Alecia Beth Moore, on September 8th, 1979. Pink grew up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania where she went to school and studied to be a competitive gymnast. She always liked to sing and developed her voice at a young age, however. When she was in high school, she joined a band that broke up after losing a battle of the bands. She continued writing lyrics as an outlet for herself though. Pink joined several groups before launching out as a solo artist.
Pink’s career could have started out as a member of the girl group Choice. However, in 1995, LaFace Records saw potential in Pink and offered her a solo record deal. Even though her initial debut recording was influenced by an R&B style, this rockin’ gal would not be hindered by any means. Her debut album was certified double-platinum. It was her follow up effort “Missundaztood” that leaned more to a pop-rock style. The album generated worldwide success with her single, “Get the Party Started”, as well as, singles “Don’t Let Me Get Me” and “Just Like a Pill”. Her third album “Try This” faired less then her previous, but it gained her the Grammy Award for “Best Female Rock Performance”.
Pink’s next two albums brought her back to the top of the charts with her number one hit single “So What”. Her biggest musical influence as a child was Madonna. She says that when she first heard “Holiday”, she was hooked. A second and significant influence was Janis Joplin. Pink really admires Joplin’s spirit, saying of Joplin, “She was so inspiring by singing blues music when it wasn’t culturally acceptable for white women. She was so witty, charming, and intelligent, even though she suffered from low self-esteem”. Pink radiates these qualities by the handful.
Our final diva of the rock stage is Amy Lee. Amy Lynn Hartzler Lee that was born on December 13, 1981, in Riverside, California is our next candidate. Her parents are John Lee, a disc jockey and television personality, and Sara Cargill. Lee’s family moved to many places, including West Palm Beach, Florida, and Rockford, Illinois, eventually settling in Little Rock, Arkansas. Amy was writing songs at a young age, as well as, taking piano lessons. Her aspiration was becoming a classical composer. She graduated from Pulaski Academy, a private school in Little Rock, in 2000. She then briefly attended Middle Tennessee State University in 2000 to study music theory and composition, but dropped out to focus on Evanescence.
Five years prior to this was the beginning of a masterpiece when, at a youth camp, Lee met Ben Moody. Moody was impressed when he heard Lee playing “I’d Do Anything For Love” by Meat Loaf on the piano. The pair soon formed a duet that would play at coffee houses and bookstores alike. They soon released two EPs, “Evanescence” EP and “Sound Asleep” EP (’98 & ’99 respectively). In 2000, Evanescence recorded the longer EP “Origin”. This demo contains three songs from the debut album “Fallen” written by Lee and Moody: “Whisper”, “Imaginary”, and “My Immortal”. All three were altered heavily before being included on “Fallen”, with “Imaginary” and “My Immortal” including additional verses cut from the “Fallen” master recordings.
On October 22, 2003, Moody left the band citing “creative differences” and the band continued with Terry Balsamo in place of Moody in the band. Alongside her contributions with the band, Lee has also participated on other musical projects, including “Nightmare Revisited” and “Muppets: The Green Album” from Walt Disney Records. She has performed collaborations with artists such as Korn, Seether, and David Hodges. Lee composed the soundtrack to the films “War Story” (2014) and “Indigo Grey: The Passage” (2015) with cellist Dave Eggar, and the song “Speak to Me” for the film “Voice from the Stone” (2017).
Signe Toly Anderson – Jefferson Airplane
Chrissie Hynde – Pretenders
A Message From Squiggly
Women in Rock: Well as you can see, women have had an essential part in making the music that moves our souls. This list is just a fraction of the number of female artists out there in the world. I know that I could have named more, but I’ll leave that to you.
Remember, just because I didn’t mention your favorite artist or band, doesn’t diminish their contribution; there just wasn’t enough time. If you like this type of content on our page, please let us know.
Finally, thank you ladies for making our musical journey that more special. Our hats off to you for making the music we love, the soundtrack of our lives. Cheers!
This is Squiggly Meyers saying, Life is short my friends, turn up the music.